By Kathleen Gilbert

NEW YORK, March 24, 2009 ( – A New York district court judge ruled yesterday that the FDA must allow 17-year-old girls access to the abortifacient morning-after pill without a doctor’s prescription, and ordered the federal agency to reconsider allowing young girls access to the pill regardless of age.

Judge Edward R. Korman said the FDA’s decision to withhold the Plan B pill was “arbitrary and capricious” and too influenced by the “political and ideological” considerations of the Bush administration.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights against the FDA for not authorizing Plan B for over-the-counter distribution to minors. The Center had asked the court to order the FDA to make Plan B, which was touted as “safe and effective,” freely available for women and girls of all ages – particularly for “young women who might benefit most from this form of contraception.”

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for all Americans who expect the government to safeguard public health,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, saying the FDA “should put medical science first and leave politics at the lab door.” The Center praised the ruling for meaning that “all women – including young women for whom the barriers and the benefits are so great – are one step closer to having the access they need and deserve.”

While the pill has been available by prescription in the U.S. since 1999, after years of lobbying by pro-choice groups, the FDA ruled in 2006 to make it available over-the-counter for women over 18.

The FDA had no comment on the lawsuit except that agency lawyers are reviewing the decision.

Pharmacists for Life International (PFLI) criticized the ruling for “ignoring patient safety and the damage high dose steroids have on developing female bodies.” PFLI points out that hundreds of women have had serious side effects from the highly controversial drug.

Though Plan B is normally billed as “contraceptive,” studies by the FDA and Plan B manufacturer Barr Labs have shown Plan B to cause the death of an embryo 75 to 89% of the time, rather than prevent its fertilization, reports PFLI.

“Judge Korman based his decision on political talking points rather than facts,” said Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America.

“Even advocates for the morning-after pill have admitted, since the FDA’s decision, that Plan B is not as effective as they originally claimed,” said Wright. “Making the morning-after pill easy to get has not resulted in fewer pregnancies or abortions, as advocates promised it would. Pregnancy counselors report more young women relying on it as a regular form of birth control – even though the drug has not been tested to discover what happens when it is used multiple times.

“This ruling puts politics above women’s health, and intrudes into parents’ ability to protect their minor daughters,” she concluded.

Chris Gacek, Family Research Council’s Senior Fellow for Regulatory Affairs, condemned the ruling. “This ruling jeopardizes girls’ health and the ability of parents to care for their daughters’ physical and emotional well-being,” said Gacek. “Judge Korman has accepted lock, stock, and barrel all of the claims of a political ideology promoting sexual license for teens.”

Gacek said that granting free access to Plan B creates “a real danger” that the pill would be given to sexually abused minors under without their consent. “Interaction with medical professionals is a major screening and defense mechanism for victims of sexual abuse,” he said.